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JACKSONVILLE -- The Jaguars were a preseason darling, a popular pick to take over the top spot in the AFC South and maybe even get to the Super Bowl.
When a team with that sort of destiny converts two fourth downs, recovers a surprise onsides kick and gets a sack and a strip out of a rookie pass rusher all while working in familiar heat and humidity, it should win. Heck, when a bad team gets all that stuff, it should win.
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|Jacksonville QB David Garrard and the rest of the Jaguars have faced some mighty struggles early in the season.|
The Jaguars got all that and made more than enough errors to offset it over the course of a 20-16 loss to Buffalo at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Sunday. That dropped the Jaguars to 0-2 as they brace for their first trip to Lucas Oil Stadium to clash with the Colts, who pulled to 1-1 thanks to a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri in Minnesota.
A survey of the Jacksonville locker room revealed no cracks in confidence, and only one voice I found went so far as to express even a degree of unhappiness over how things have unfolded so far.
"There is no running game if you don't run it, and we just haven't ran the ball, that's all it is, there is nothing else to it," said Maurice Jones-Drew, who carried only seven times for 17 yards and has only 12 carries through two games. "We haven't run the ball, period. We've got to get back to what we are. We're a running team, period. That's all it is. Ask anybody, they'll tell you."
"We're not making plays and guys want to be getting the opportunity to make them, some guys aren't given the opportunity and we're trying maybe to rush things instead of being patient like we were being last year. We'll fix it."
It's always something of a chicken and egg question, whether run-based teams win because they run a lot or are able to run so much because they are winning. Last year's playoff Jaguars averaged 35.8 rushes in their 12 wins and 23.8 rushes in their six losses. This year's team has only 44 attempts through two games.
But it didn't lose to the Bills so much because it didn't run enough.
David Garrard's interception thrown into the end zone just before the half hurt a lot. It was his third this year, matching his total in 13 regular-season games a year ago. He connected on nothing longer than 15 yards. The Jags were awful on third downs on both offense and defense. And Bills second-year quarterback Trent Edwards took advantage of the long pauses in Jacksonville's pass rush to put together an effective and efficient game.
He found Lee Evans, who had pulled away from safety Gerald Sensabaugh, with a marvelous 37-yard pass to set up the winning score, a throw produced by just the right play call that fell from the sky in just the right spot at just the right time.
That magical feeling the Jaguars had going last year was present in the building today, just on the opposite sideline and in the other locker room.
The Jaguars played the physical style that's a trademark, but Buffalo matched it.
Take one image as the signature shot of this game, and it's Jones-Drew with his helmet spun around on his head -- his nose and eyes covered, his hair exposed to a facemask. It came at the end of a very good play for the Jags, the result of a facemask penalty against Paul Posluszny that tacked 15 yards onto a 9-yard run that converted a fourth-and-1. Still, it was a bit symbolic, a team that won the same matchup here last year by 22 points was being told things were going to get turned around.
"It certainly feels good to come out with a gutsy win early in the season that builds some confidence," Evans said. "I think a lot of guys grew up in this game as well, and that's one of the most positive things about it."
A few months from now, Buffalo could look back and say this was the catalyst for a big season. The Jaguars could lament it as one that got away and really cost them in an AFC that looks, through just two weeks, like ascendant teams like Buffalo and Denver are ready to bump teams like San Diego and Jacksonville off their perches.
But don't expect the Jaguars to show any insecurity when they measure the big expectations against the results so far. They were very good at staying on message after the cooling-off period.
"No doubts, nobody's doubting this, it's too early," defensive end Paul Spicer said. "Don't try to come here and think the Jaguars are going to hang up our helmets, we're just going to play the rest of the season now for a first-round draft pick.
"We don't play like that around here. That's not us. That's not how we roll. We're going to pull ourselves up, pull our boots on a little tighter and get to work."
It doesn't come across as denial.
The primary issue remains the same -- there needs to be more pass rush so a young quarterback like Edwards or an old one like next week's nemesis, Peyton Manning, cannot have the time to allow targets to gain some separation before they get a throw off without being disrupted.
"If it was a missed coverage or whatever, I don't even blame that guy, I put it on us," Spicer said of the Edwards-to-Evans connection. "For a guy to run all the way across the field, to make a play, that's on us... We could have done a better job helping out the guys back there. Any quarterback is going to a good job when he's got time in this league, young, old, don't matter. You give a quarterback some time like that pass play, he should make the play. If he don't, he ain't going to be in the league very long."
The Jaguars will talk about the New York Giants this week. Some of them -- from wily veteran Fred Taylor to rookie Quentin Groves -- were quick to point to last year's Super Bowl champs and their 0-2 start.
"It's a great reference, if you're talking about wanting to find something to keep your mind set positive, and that's what I am doing," Taylor said.
But if Jacksonville falls at Indianapolis next week, the Giants will no longer qualify as a help. New York started a six-game winning streak in Week 3.
The Jaguars believe themselves capable of simil
ar feats. Jones-Drew is right when he talks about the run game -- they have to try to force the issue more. Everyone has to play better at other spots to help offset the injuries along the offensive line. It fared better in the second half, but remains the group to monitor. The losses there could simply be too much to overcome.
Which is nothing cornerback Drayton Florence is interested in hearing.
"The swagger is not gone, the confidence is not gone, the expectations are not gone," Florence said. "We've just got to regroup and get this thing turned around before it gets ugly."